June 30, 2003

More on the Academic Galaxy

In an entry posted yesterday, I commented on a Boston Globe article that takes a rather critical view of the academic star system. Acknowledging that some of the academics discussed in the article really are stars (I cited the example of Niall Ferguson, whose publication record must surely be deemed exceptional by any measure), I nevertheless raised a couple of concerns about the trend, and was even bold enough to suggest that the celebrification of the academy was the flipside of its adjunctification.

The post prompted some comments (most notably by Department Chair and Vivian) on the qualifications (or lack thereof) of adjuncts, which comments seemed, at least implicity, to acknowledge that there might be a connection between the rise of the superstar phenomenon and the growing reliance on adjuncts. To expand on my suggestion that celebrification might be seen as the flipside of adjunctification (and it is little more than a suggestion, not a fully reasoned argument: I should have stated it more tentatively in the original post):

I have argued and continue to argue that the growing use of adjunct faculty represents a devaluation of academic teaching, that is, both of the teachers and of the disciplines in which they teach. And I begin to suspect that, far from representing an impressive increase in the status and prestige of the liberal arts in general (though it does quite obviously represent a very impressive increase in the status and prestige of a few leading lights who shine forth very brightly), the academic superstar phenonemon might actually point to a decline. That is, as the liberal arts sink lower and lower in public esteem (and sink lower and lower even in the eyes of some liberal arts professors themselves, who are prepared to argue that the teaching of the liberal arts is of so little value that it can be performed by an academic underclass), the cultural gatekeepers to the liberal arts respond to this degradation by seeking to inflate the value, as it were, of a select group of its professors. I doubt very much this is the result of market forces, though we have had so many discussions of markets here at this blog that I am no longer sure just what is meant by the term. I believe that while students and their tuition-paying parents (I am speaking here of elite superstar-recruiting institutions) are certainly paying for the prestige of star faculty, they have no idea of just how wide the gap has grown between the haves and have-nots and have very little conception of just how underpaid and unsupported are the part-timers who teach many of their classes. And if students and their parents were made fully aware of the sitution, I'm not convinced they would be willing to pay quite as much money as they currently do pay.

To clarify one other point: I have no problem with the idea that a school like Harvard will want to recruit and maintain star faculty. Nor do I deny that academics can be at least roughly ranged on a scale according to various measures of merit. Or, to put it another way, to argue on a weblog (as I do argue on this my weblog) that the teaching of a course in English or history or any academic discipline whatsoever should be worth significantly more than $2,500 is not to publish a Levellers' pamphlet advocating the abolition of private property and the elimination of all ranks and distinctions whatsoever. Moreover, I am sympathetic to Derek Bok's position, which is, namely, that while this kind of thing is inevitable and in some respects positive, it carrries the real risk of negative consquences and could potentially be carried too far (eg, the use of Hollywood-type agents). As with most things in life, it really is a matter of degree. At the same time, I have to say that I am not persuaded that the publications of at least some of the academic superstars cited in the Boston Globe article represent a solid and enduring contribution to the liberal arts that will last beyond the next generation. Which is really to open up (or to return to) a series of related questions concerning the values and purposes of the liberal arts: ie, what is it that we are doing? what is it that we should be doing, and so on?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:10 PM | Comments (25)

June 29, 2003

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner?

There are times when I read the posts at the Invisible Adjunct and wonder if somehow, by mistake, I have wandered into a congregation of Calvinists who believe in total depravity. Only this time, it's the total depravity of the job seeker. No works can avail you in your quest for salvation; you are somehow predestined to the company of the elect or the damned, which in practice means that getting the elusive tenure-track job is purely a matter of luck. (Indeed, your own merit is nothing!) This seems to me to be not quite right. A better analogy would be to how research universities treat the quality of one's teaching during the tenure process: good teaching is a 'neutral,' but bad teaching can get one fired. That is, I'm not sure if there's anything one can do to get a tenure-track job, beyond presenting yourself properly, understanding the institution you're interviewing at, being polite, being articulate, and so forth. After that, it's in the invisible hand of the job market--and, since there are more qualified candidates than there are jobs, many good people will never get hired. But there are things you can do to prevent yourself getting hired, which range from being obnoxious to the search committee to being inarticulate about your work to not understanding the difference between a Research I and a comprehensive with a 4-4 load. My father has an awful lot of horror stories about candidates unwittingly destroying themselves at job interviews, and I know I certainly screwed myself up more than once.

-- Miriam of The Little Professor

And the above description seems to me to be not quite right.

There's always a first time for anything and everything, I suppose, and this is the first time I've been designated a Calvinist. I like to think this blog is ecumenical in purpose and latitudinarian in spirit, but of course it does have its leanings. Its leanings are those of a lapsed Catholic (who is not lapsed enough, it turns out, to not be a little bit surprised to see her blog described as a Calvinist congregation) and a scholar of Hume (and we know what Hume had to say about the Calvinists).

Seriously, Miriam, I don't believe there is a single post at this blog where I suggest that the academic hiring process is purely a matter of luck and not at all a matter of merit. But of course I could be wrong about this. I would therefore be grateful if you or anyone else could point to the offending post(s) so that I might correct the error (after making a full confession and receiving absolution for my sins).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 06:40 PM | Comments (27)

Weekly IA Award

This week's Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) goes to Timothy Burke for his incisive account of the tragicomedy of academic careerism (comments to "Do We Really Need Another 'Other'?"):

This is about how careerist tropes seize hold of and ultimately parody real causes and communities--sometimes, though not invariably, in alliance with some similar seizures and instrumental uses among identity politics activists. It would be funny if it weren't so damned annoying: the 'discovery' of a marginality is proclaimed like Columbus claiming the New World for Spain, rescued from malign and deliberate neglect. An earnest project of recovery is outlined, and a rhetoric of urgent redress accompanies it--which carries with it an implicit need to commission the discoverer as the agent of redress, speaking on behalf of the hidden, lost, concealed, suppressed history.

Then comes the people who want to reveal 'hidden complexities' in the heroically recovered marginality, while more or less maintaining the recovery narrative intact. Then comes the people who question whether the identity in question even really exists, and who pronounce it part of a system of representational binaries which enmesh everyone who tries to speak of the categories in question.

Meanwhile, the gold rush search for the next never-mentioned marginality in need of recuperation has long since moved on.

Well done, Mr Burke, and thank you for being always already insightful. Of course, even to have commented is to have implicated yourself in the binary logic of a representational dilemma for which there can be no redress and from which there can be no escape. Let this prize serve as consolation.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:26 PM | Comments (1)

The Celebrification of the Academy

It might surprise parents and students that they don't hear about star recruitment on campus tours, given that it's helping drive up the cost of tuition and fees to $38,000 at top private colleges. The institutions need the revenue to subsidize the new buildings and perks required to recruit these professors. Star compensation at these 'nonprofit' universities can top $200,000 for only a class or two a week, which in turn has widened the divide between haves and have-nots in higher education. Columbia offers fancy apartments with majestic views to woo stars (though not every home is as stunning as Sachs's town house west of Central Park); meanwhile, part-time faculty who do the bulk of the teaching are forming unions just to fight for cost-of-living wage increases.

-- Patrick Healy, College Rivalry

Here's a nice article on "the celebrification of academia" and the lengths to which some departments and schools will go in order to woo and win academic superstars. There's no question that some of these people are indeed stars. At age 39, Niall Ferguson, for example, has just published his sixth book. Ferguson, who is being courted by Harvard and NYU, observes that

'One couldn't imagine all of this happening in Oxford, where there's a kind of gentleman's agreement that we're all equally brilliant...It's extremely bad form to suggest that one person is as vulgar as to be a star. But it's rather sweet and flattering to be told you're good. And it's positively disorienting to be told you're a star.'

But does this new cult of celebrity advance the mission of the university and serve the interests both of the students and of the faculty in general? James J. Duderstadt, former president of the University of Michigan and author of The Future of the Public University in America, "is one of a handful of education leaders who see this poaching and jumping around as a threat to America's premier higher education system." Duderstadt argues that "it further erodes institutional loyalty among faculty and puts students second, behind scholars' own interests." And while Derek Bok, a former President of Harvard and author of Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education, "notes that star hiring is a duty of presidents," he worries that "it can be hazardous to a school's core mission, teaching:"

'The lower teaching loads and big perks are a little unsavory, and they can breed envy,' Bok says. 'Humanists feel more and more declasse. They see resources and salaries shifting to more commercially relevant fields of study. Their loyalty softens. It can bubble over in a visible way, like spending less time on campus with students.'...Someday, [Derek Bok] predicts, professional agents may broker deals with university presidents on behalf of star faculty, much as Hollywood producers and NFL recruiters negotiate with star talent now.

'There are a few professors already,' Bok says, 'you get their voice mail that says if you want to talk to X, you need to talk to his agent, which I find a little off-putting.'

Surely Bok is not the only one to find this just a little off-putting. More to the point, I'm sure I'm not the only one who sees the celebrification of the academy as the flip side of its adjunctification?

Ms Cruikshanks, You were asking about the meaning and purpose of liberal education?...

Thanks to Steve of One Pot Meal for calling this to my attention.


Tom of Publius Minor states that while "a star system in itself" isn't a bad thing, the current academic star system "has exceeded all reasonable limits."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:39 PM | Comments (41)

June 28, 2003

Posting Comments Anonymously

In the past 24 hours I've received emails from three different people who note that they don't want/don't dare to post their comments on my blog. Now, if you'd rather email me than post a comment, that's great. However, if you do want to participate in a discussion with other readers here, but are concerned to not reveal your identity, please note that comments are set up so that readers may post anonymously (or, obviously, under a pseudonym.) You needn't enter an email address or a website/URL: just enter a name, ignore the other fields and press "Post." I should add that when you post a comment, your IP address is recorded where I can look it up (though without knowing who you are -- perhaps I could find this out if I were very clever, but rest assured I'm not that clever), so that if someone came on spewing, say, neo-Nazi bile, I could ban that IP address.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:47 PM | Comments (6)

Getting to Yes?

The title of this entry makes me sound like a used-car salesman, I know. But after reading some recent posts on Frogs and Ravens and Invisible Adjunct I find that it's relevant.

To summarize briefly, a lot of folks are angry. They have labored for years to earn a Ph.D. and they now find there is no market for their skills. Unable to enter the profession that they love and that they have spent years preparing for, they are disillusioned, demoralized, and despondent. They feel they have wasted several years of their life and are now hopelessly behind in trying to find employment that people of far less education are qualified to do.

-- Kevin Walzer, The Power of Positive Thinking

Kevin Walzer recommends the power of positive thinking. This deserves a reply, but for the moment real life intervenes. Response to follow.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:19 AM | Comments (17)

June 27, 2003

Should Tenure be Abolished? Vote Now!

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:01 PM | Comments (11)

My History Job Search Paranoia Confirmed?

When making tenure-track hires, history departments engage in what economists call nonprice rationing and what educated laypeople might call discrimination. To reduce the large group of applicants to a manageable number, the members of history-department search committees reject applications for the slightest cause...

... Departments in all disciplines try to engage in the same process, but they can do so only to the extent that they have a glut of serious candidates. Economics departments currently have precious little opportunity to indulge themselves, but history departments have ample room to maneuver. I know of one candidate for a history job who was rejected because her surname was the same as that of a member of the department, and a professor on the search committee thought she would therefore not be a good fit.

-- Robert E. Wright, A Market Solution to the Oversupply of Historians

From the "just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you" files:

There's a discussion brewing down in the comments to "Is Tenure a Cartel? Redux" that I want to bring upfront. The discussion concerns a series of columns by "C.A. Wilcox" (this is a pseudonym), "a tenured professor of history at a major research university who will write a regular column this academic year on how the job-search process works from the hiring side of the table in history."

In a column entitled "A Long Shortlist," Wilcox offered what I must consider an invaluable insight into the sheer arbitrariness, nay the downright craziness, of the selection process:

I paid close attention to what might appear to be a mundane aspect of the CVs: the professional memberships listed by the candidates. Remarkably, some applicants failed to indicate that they were members of the appropriate professional organizations, not just the American Historical Association, but also the smaller ones appropriate to the field in which we are searching. When all such groups have low dues for graduate students, it's definitely a mark against a candidate who has not joined them and who thus is not receiving the journals (and current book reviews) regularly. Nonmembers have to pay more to attend professional meetings, and they usually cannot participate in panels at those meetings. Thus memberships are, to me, an important early sign of the professional engagement we seek from new colleagues.

Now when I read this, I had an actually physical reaction: my gut clenched, and for a brief moment I felt dizzy. You see, when I went on the market, I was one of those candidates who "remarkably...failed to indicate" my membership in the various professional associations to which I did in fact belong. I would have been more than happy to have listed them on my CV. But I had been told not to by my advisors and mentors. Indeed, in an early draft of my CV I had actually included them and was quite explicitly warned to remove them. This would be seen as CV-padding, I was informed. And the suspicion of CV-padding might result in being eliminated from consideration as a candidate. In other words, I was told exactly the same thing that William Pannapacker was told (comment to "Is Tenure a Cartel? Redux"):

I was told by career advisors at Harvard that one should not list professional memberships on a CV because these are not achievements or qualifications. Anybody can join an organization, and presumably everyone in the profession with good credentials is already a member of all of the major societies.

Well, I'm rather relieved to learn that I didn't just make this up. Because when I read that Wilcox column, for a brief moment I had to wonder whether I had got it all wrong. Perhaps my advisors had most emphatically warned me that I must list professional memberships on my CV, or risk being eliminated as someone who does not show signs of early professional engagement? But no, I do know that I didn't get this wrong (though if I applied for the job in Wilcox's department, which is not outside the realm of possibility, then of course I got it very wrong indeed).

So presumably some committees might eliminate a candidate for including memberships on a CV (CV-padding), while other committees might eliminate a candidate for not including memberships on a CV (lack of professional engagement). How is a candidate to know which committee will eliminate on the basis of which decision? Are there subtle clues in the job announcements, some kind of cryptic code, perhaps, that the extremely bright and assiduous job-seeker might manage to crack?

This all sounds rather silly, doesn't it? But it's actually rather serious for the job candidate. In Wilcox's search, people really were eliminated for not listing memberships in professional organizations. I'll bet many, probably most, of them did belong to the appropriate organizations, but had been advised not to list them.

Psst...Hey, you. Over there. Yeah, you. You're an "A" student, and you love history, and the life of a tenured professor looks pretty sweet, and your undergraduate professors are encouraging you to continue your pursuit of history in graduate school. Don't do it!


My job market paranoia confirmed? Mr Pannapacker has left a comment at the "Is Tenure a Cartel? Redux" entry that tends toward a confirmation:

In any case, there are lots of criteria that are far more important than anything that goes on the CV when it comes to hiring at any institution (but you'll never know what they are). I recently served on two search committees, and I now realize that the process must look nearly random to the candidate. Anyone in contention for a job anywhere has to have outstanding credentials. A trivial difference can easily be blamed for the major differences that cannot or must not be articulated.
Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:44 AM | Comments (48)

Censorship Shocker: Liz Lawley Banned

A real person evaluating my blog for suitability in a library setting would probably not choose to ban it based on the context in which the suspect word was used. But filtering software isn’t that smart, and as a result, someone in a public library looking for information on my grant research, or the ala programs I attended, is out of luck.

-- Liz Lawley, "Banned Blogs"

Anyone (and in my opinion that should be you, me and everyone) concerned about the Supreme Court's recent decision to uphold the Children's Internet Protection Act should read Liz Lawley's lastest post, where she recounts the experience of trying to get to her blog via a "'free Internet' kiosk," only to encouter "a dialog box that said 'Access to this site has been restricted at the request of this organization.'” If Liz Lawley -- professor, social software expert, librarian, internet consultant, wife, mother, Tupperware lady and upstanding citizen -- can be banned, we should all be more than a little bit worried.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:36 AM | Comments (12)

U of Phoenix Still Rising

Working adults want their college degrees -- and the raises that come with them -- ASAP. The University of Phoenix is taking their desires to the bank.

-- Jeffrey Selingo, The Profit Motive

The Accidental Admin links to the above article "just to see if I can get Invisible Adjunct's blood to boil." Are you kidding?! I'm going corporate, with the U of Phoenix as my model and inspiration. I've had done with noble ideals: labors of love, teaching as vocation, learning for its own sake, and the like. I've spent years of my life in pursuit of said ideals, and look where I've ended up. Show me the money, baby. (And did you know that the U of Phoneix made a profit of $153 million last year?)

So I'm taking notes, doing a bit of market research, shall we say, in preparation for the founding of my own for-profit institution of degraded learning. I'm delighted to learn that "the image of for-profit schools as correspondence courses promoted by Sally Struthers on late-night television has been replaced by students who drive to class in BMWs and carry briefcases." And I think the man-made lake is a nice touch: "[There] is no quad, just a man-made lake bordered on one side by two car dealerships and on the other by sleek offices." Well, why not? Out with that neo-gothic nonsense. Sure, the university was once an arm of the Church, but it should now be the arm of what must be seen as the new religion of our age.

A couple of things to note about the above-linked article. First, in its description of "an army of part-time faculty members" that "helps boost Phoenix's profit margin," the article suggests a new standard of comparison:

All but a handful of Phoenix faculty are part-timers. The university actually calls them 'practitioners' since most of them work full time in the fields they teach. Phoenix takes care of the prep work by providing them with a centralized curriculum that is developed by a small cadre of full-time faculty as well as some part-time instructors. The lighter workload for faculty is reflected in pay: Phoenix instructors in the Washington area earn between $800 and $1,650 per course, compared with $2,000 to $5,000 for adjuncts at more traditional universities in the area.

What's interesting here is that the shockingly low pay rates for adjuncts in the Washington area is cited as the norm and standard, against which to measure the even lower pay rates for Phoenix adjuncts. We have sunk very low indeed. We could sink lower still.

The article suggests that "the initial consternation over Phoenix" has died down as "local university officials...realize now that Phoenix poses less of a threat than they first believed. They say that their enrollments of adult students remain steady, or in some cases are growing:"

Traditional colleges tend to 'exaggerate the impact of Phoenix,' says Breneman, the University of Virginia dean who is co-editing a book on for-profit universities. 'They set for-profits up as the bogeyman. For-profits are not stealing market share, they are essentially extending it.'

This may well be true in terms of student enrollment: the University of Phoenix has a different consumer base, and is presumably not in competition with more traditional universities in the area. But what about rates of pay for instructors? Might Phoenix exert a downward pressure on the already low rates of pay for adjuncts at other institutions? Not to worry: Most traditional institutions "say they have no interest in turning their institutions into a business, and even if they did, it would take years to roll back all the things that affect the bottom line: student activities, eclectic course offerings and tenure." That sounds reassuring, doesn't it?

Second, the article points to the some of the absurdities of credentialing (do I hear a comment from Zizka?). Take, for example, this account of a course in human resources management:

There's no lecturing here. The students know too much for that. Almost everyone prefaces his or her answers in class with, 'At my company,' or, 'At my previous employer.' When one student asks for an explanation of 'pay-banding,' the particulars are provided not by [instructor, or rather, "practitioner" ] Caputo but by a student who works at the Department of Defense, which uses such a system to establish pay ranges for positions.

After an hour, the discussion moves to telecommuting, which Roberson could teach himself. He works out of his Silver Spring home and has telecommuted for years. No one offers anything on the subject he doesn't already know, and Roberson has trouble staying focused. ('It was a battle against boredom,' he says later.)

So Roberson is not really learning anything he doesn't already know, but needs to have his already existing knowledge officially certified: "At Sun Microsystems, he says, he has been passed over for several promotions, sometimes by people he has trained. 'The excuse was always that they had a bachelor's degree, and I didn't,' Roberson says. 'I want to once and for all eliminate that excuse.'"

Phoenix currently operates in 26 states, and continues to expand operations. According to this report by the Chronicle (subscription-only), the U of Phoenix "is expected to receive approval today to open a New Jersey campus, five years after it withdrew a similar application amid heated opposition." This comes after withdrawing an application in 1998, "after vehement opposition from many public and private colleges in New Jersey," who "criticized Phoenix for failing to provide a library in its plan for the campus and for the low number of full-time faculty members it proposed."

Apparently they've cut a deal:

This time around, Phoenix has signed an agreement to pay New Jersey City University $25,000 per year to share library resources, added more general-education courses, and required more contact between students and professors. The company also has proposed setting up shop in Jersey City, where it would compete with fewer institutions.

25,000 dollars? A mere pittance, an insult even. The university lies in ruins, and in come the carpetbaggers of the digital age. Where do I sign up and how do I cash in?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:54 AM | Comments (10)

June 26, 2003

Polling Software?

Is there an easy (easy-to-install, easy-to-use) software that would allow me to run polls on my site? Something that works well with Movable Type?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:45 PM | Comments (6)

If You Like...(A Summer Reading List, to be Compiled by the Readers of this Blog)

Gentle Readers,

It's 95 degrees in the shade, and I simply cannot function. I am not a summer person: I'd rather walk five miles through a snowstorm (without hat or mitts, even!) than suffer through one afternoon of this enervating heat and humidity.

But the one thing I do like about summer is the "summer reading" concept. Inspired by Kieran Healy's Read Any Good Books Lately?, I'm soliciting recommendations. Here's the twist: you must recommend a title or author with reference to another title or author according to the following formula:

If you like X, then try Y.

Yeah, it's not particularly clever or original, but dammit, I just can't think properly in this heat.

Here are a couple to get things started:

If you like Jane Austen, then try Penelope Fitzgerald.

If you like Penelope Fitzgerald, then try Salley Vickers.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:36 PM | Comments (36)

June 25, 2003

Is Tenure a Cartel? Redux

Well, not the original post, but the comments (which are more interesting than the post, in any case). A couple of people have asked me what happened to the "Is Tenure a Cartel?" piece. I lost it, along with some other blog entries, during my server woes a few weeks ago (lesson learned: back up your entries!).

But though the page containing the original blog entry has vanished into the ether, I've discovered a cached version of the comments page via google. I find this rather eerie: the ghost of a page that no longer exists (though of course its existence is neither more nor less real than the original -- I can't wrap my mind around cyberspace and time and the lack of embodied being and so on).

So here are the the lost-but-found commments. How weird is this?


Ed Bilodeau has discovered a cached version of the original entry (now, how'd I miss that? well, I don't claim to be anything more than a rank amateur here...):

Is Tenure a Cartel?

In the comments to "Adjunct Survivor: Big City" (Contingent Faculty and Academic Freedom), John Bruce argues that the tenure system is a cartel:

Tenure is (or more accurately, was) a way to cartelize the academic job market, in combination with the Ph.D. The point is to set up major barriers to entry (the Ph.D. requirement) and then control the overall terms and prices of service via the AAUP's contracts with individual universities...

...Another analogy occurred to me regarding tenure as cartel: cartel members, having established a price, are tempted to overproduce and thus undercut themselves. This is what happens with the Ph.D. product -- to fill graduate seminars, which are sold at the tenured price, professors must inevitably produce more Ph.D.s, which results in an oversupply, which results in price cutting. OPEC members routinely wink at their assigned quotas and produce more; university departments nod in agreement as the various professional associations decry the hiring of adjuncts -- yet they go back to their seminars and produce more Ph.D.s to glut the market in future years. They wouldn't have enough classes to teach if they didn't.

Zizka finds "cartel" an apt term, and adds the following [award-winning observation] in the comments to "1 in 5: Thomas H. Benton Explains Why You Shouldn't Go to Graduate School" (Benton's essay, by the way, really hit a nerve: the joint was jumping yesterday in the comments section for that entry):

We ought to get an economist on this. What we have is a classic two-tier hiring system in a declining industry (humanities). The industry also is highly dependent on a large pool of workers who rationally should be finding jobs elsewhere. To the extent that scholarship (rather than just teaching) justifies the system, the future looks grim since the scholars of the future are not being fostered. And it looks like an enormous shakedown is ahead.

Once upon a time, when I was young and hopeful and naive, I would have dismissed any talk of "tenure as cartel" out of hand. That's the rhetoric of free marketeers, I would have thought, who want to impose a corporate logic on an institution that exists to serve a higher calling. The university does and must stand in opposition and as an alternative to the market.

Now that I've been adjunctified, I'm not so sure. Seems to me the university has been pretty thoroughly, if not completely, corporatized in many areas. The increasing reliance on a part-time contingent workforce is of course one such key area. What, if anything, has tenure to do with this?

Does tenure represent a bulwark against the ongoing corporatization of the university? Or has the tenure system actually contributed to the imposition of a corporate managerial logic in hiring practices, encouraging the overproduction and subsquent devaulation of the PhD?

Once again, I'm not an economist, nor do I play one on this blog. Speaking in non-economic terms, I have often wondered whether tenure hasn't actively contributed the academic job problem by engendering a false sense of security on the part of those who should resist the devaluation of the PhD for the sake of the future of the profession. In a profession where people don't have the security of tenure, would senior people let things come to such a crisis point (almost half of all humanities teaching at colleges and universities is now done by those outside the tenure system) before finally realizing (and perhaps realizing too late in the day) that something has gone awry and that something should be done?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:57 PM | Comments (31)

The Supreme Court's AA Decision

For those interested in the Supreme Court's recent ruling in the Michigan affirmative action cases, I recommend the following commentary:

Brad DeLong on equality of opportunity

Frank Admissions weighing in as admission expert

Kieran Healy on the difference between necessary and sufficient causes

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:33 PM | Comments (0)

What is a Labor Market?

My post on Marc Bousquet's* job market argument (ie, there is no academic job market) generated some interesting comments on what constitutes a labor market.

While Chun the Unavoidable is "sympathetic to Bousquet's argument," he does "not see the evidence" for Bousquet's "radically counterintuitive claim." There is, he writes,

clearly a job market. It's not a very good market, obviously; but he has a job, and I see people get jobs all the time....

...If there are jobs advertised each year, as there are, and a candidate who applies receives one, as usually happens, then it seems to me to be a market. Not a very good one, yes, but it's still a market.

Jeremy Hunsinger sees it differently:

just because people get jobs does not mean its a market. Braudel points out that anti-markets occur also, but in anti-markets, there are no markets, just understandings and agreements, often unstated, that business will be done in a certain way, with certain people, and not others. In short, anti-markets are closed systems, a form of systemic plural monopoly. In all likelihood we are probably looking at a tightly woven, historically developed anti-market for most academic jobs, though there may be some real academic job markets in 'hot' fields, where open competition necessarilly occurs because of a lack of qualified applicants.

I'm not familiar with Braudel's anti-market model. As described here, it sounds rather too closed and restrictive to apply to hiring practices within the academy. On the other hand, I don't think we are looking at anything close to a free market, in part because I think tenure is a decidedly guildlike institution which operates differently than (some would say interferes with) the kind of transactions we commonly associate with the market. So at the moment, I'm partial to Bousquet's notion of a failed monopoly of professional labor, though I'm open to other ideas...

A couple of questions:

Given the two-tier system of academic employment, are there two separate job markets: a tenure-track job market and an adjunct track job market? Or are these two tracks rather part of the same market/system?

In terms of adjunct jobs, to what extent are wages and working conditions influenced by the existence of a better class of job (ie the tenure track job) -- e.g., by encouraging people to make economically irrational decisions (i.e., stay within the academy working for low pay and no benefits rather than seek employment outside the academy) in the hope of making it to the higher tier?

*Part II on Bousquet coming soon.


Steven Krause, an associate professor of English literature who describes my blog as "partly sad but true, part pitty party," argues that "academia works like the rest of the world in the sense that when it comes to employment, it all boils down to supply and demand" (permalink bloggered; scroll to Tuesday, June 24, 2003). I beg to differ. Though I certainly agree that "anyone going into a PhD program better do a little market research first to find out what sort of jobs exist on the other side of the rainbow," this whole question of supply and demand strikes me as much more complex than Krause acknowledges.

There is undoubtedly an oversupply of humanities PhDs relative to the number of tenure-track positions. But how and in what ways does this stem from the laws of supply and demand (again the question: what is a market?). The fact is, the erosion of tenure-track jobs is occurring alongside a constant (in some cases even an increasing) demand for teachers. Indeed, adjuncts most often teach precisely those courses for which there is a great demand, while the tenured often teach course for which there is comparatively little demand.

I am reminded of Alex Pang's phrase "a conspiracy of narrow interests:"

What's happened with the academic job market, it seems to me, is something different. It's better thought of as a bad outcome of a conspiracy of the narrow interests of administrators and permanent faculty. Why do I say this? Look at the kinds of courses that are taught by adjuncts: introductory lecture courses, surveys, service-intensive courses like English comp. This isn't because administrators or department heads have tried to create a more rational market, or to match teaching supply and course demand more effectively, but one driven more by convenience and hierarchy: it's a way for administrators to cut costs, and for senior faculty to focus greater love and attention on their graduate students, enrich the collective intellectual life of their institutions, etc.

If you believed that this was happening because of a macroeconomic logic, you'd conclude that universities were operating under the assumption that it was impossible to know, semester to semester, whether there would be enough demand for Western Civ or differential calculus to have anyone permanently hired to teach it; but that it absolutely essential to have lifetime 24/7 access to specialists in [insert favorite absurd example of something]. What SHOULD be happening is the opposite. Since academic fashions change as quickly as any others, but the need for students who can write a decent paragraph and compute the area under a curve does not, universities should have spent the last two decades outsourcing their high-level, theoretical work, and investing resources in a permanent cadre of teachers.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:33 PM | Comments (16)

June 24, 2003

Blogging for Business, Direct from the Source

Reinforce corporate brand message. Protect corporate brand equity and intellectual property. Disclaim all responsibility for any legal or other consequences. Write in upbeat 8th grade pro-business politically correct sincere prose. Use occasional commas, but not the mysterious semi-colon. Do not use hard words, nor refer to literature, philosophy, religion, politics or any topic that requires a high school diploma, or that might be controversial with target clients. Stay on message: Bondage is Good; Wealth Bondage is Better.

From the Tutor's guide to the management structure, style and substance (or lack thereof) of a corporate blog.

"Blogging is the one place I can think of," he writes, "where the citizen can beat the biggest companies, daily." The reason? Blogging requires a particular human voice with a distinctive personality, whereas the corporate voice is produced by those who must function as "interchangeable parts."

But what about the unique and distinctive voices of the blog we know as Wealth Bondage? Well, apparently the economy of blogging has gone global:

"So how does WB consistently turn out a highly personalized, totally Authentic, choir of voices daily? Well, candidly, we outsource it to India."


For the benefit of my adjunct readers, I note that Candidia Cruikshanks of Wealth Bondage is holding an adjunct employment auction. Apparently some mid-level flunky reminded her that since global blogging sweatshops generate negative publicity (and negative publicity adds up to diminished shareholder confidence and loss of corporate revenue), she should strive, wherever possible, to keep her domestics domestic. Grant that the auction sounds frightfully demeaning, can it be any worse than the annual medieval hiring fair at the AHA or the MLA?:

Adjuncts Wanted!

Wealth Bondage is committed to keeping as many blogging jobs as possible on American Soil. The only labor that can compete effectively with our Blog Warren in Calcutta are Adjuncts with PhDs from top schools. Please submit writing sample in the comment section below. Those selected will be interviewed by Dr. Chadwallah. No hidden meanings please. Your comment should express as briefly as possible why you aspire to a Career as a Corporate Submissive and why you feel that you are qualified based on the beatings you have received in Academia. Please stipulate your minimum acceptable salary. We are holding a reverse auction. The current low bid is $14,300, no benefits. Do I hear $13,000?

I'm working on my writing sample, to be submitted along with my new structural-functionalist functional resume.


The Tutor describes my statement as "a trumped-up farrago of upbeat business bs, academic prose, and Stoic philosophy:"

When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes, I all alone beweep my outcast state, and trouble deaf Heaven with my bootless cries, and look upon myself, and curse my fate, haply I think on my blog and then I churn out another entry.

I am a life time learner with the proven ability to master and apply complex concepts quickly, creatively and to maximum effect, and for little pay and no benefits. I have extensive experience both as an adjunct and as a blogger, and I span the boundaries between both worlds on my Invisible Adjunct blog, where I shift the paradigms on a daily basis. It is a measure of my modesty and self-effacement that I do so under cover of a pseudonym. I play for the team, and I play to win, but without regard to narrow self-interest, producing high-quality work for little recognition and scant remuneration. In my career as an adjunct, I have developed and implemented highly effective strategies for dealing with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, the whims and vagaries of the market, and the capricious demands of my edu-corporate whoremasters. I humbly submit my application as a high end product available at bargain basement rates.

I just hope I make the shortlist.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:51 PM | Comments (9)

The Nonacademic Job Search: Wealth and of Resources

QUESTION: I have decided I don't want to stay in academe, but what else can I do?

ANSWER: The first thing to do is to rephrase your question to, 'What do I want to do?'...

A wealth of resources is available to help you in a nonacademic job search...

...One of the most entertaining ways to test your reactions to the career choices of people of your age and background is to read the weddings and engagements section of The New York Times on Sundays. Take a look some time and use your reactions to what people do to help you figure out what you want to do.

-- Mary Dillon Johnson, What Else Can I Do?

Well, okay. So now that I've perused what David Brooks calls "the mergers and acquisitions page" ("Harvard marries Yale. Princeton marries Stanford. Magna cum laude marries magna cum laude"), I've decided that what I'd like to do is to start from scratch and begin a new life as an Episcopalian with a trust fund.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:05 PM | Comments (27)

The Academic Job Search: Requirements for Candidacy

Thomas Hart Benton of Don't Go to Grad School fame (or is that infamy?) comments (Do We Really Need Another 'Other'?) on the increased expectations for academic job candidates:

Or am I remembering an MLA job ad (e.g., 'in your letter of application to Great Valley State College, please describe how your scholarship has changed the paradigm of your field as well as how you teach remedial composition.')

"In any case," Benton adds, "I guess that delusions of grandeur are characteristic of enterprises on the eve of disintegration."

The eve of disintegration? Let me assure you that your pessimism is unwarranted, and let me remind you that, in any case, it is impermissible. This is the morning of a brave new epoch of Outstanding Achievement in all areas of academic Excellence. The increased pressure to publish means that scholarly productivity is at an all-time high; the now-standard practice of students evaluating their teachers rewards hitherto unimaginable levels of shameless pandering commitment and dedication in the classroom; and the substantial inflation improvement in student grades over the past two decades points to impressive gains in students' academic performance. Climb aboard, Mr Benton, and ride the train of Progress. But please be seated right next to one of our excellence-in-research-and-teaching quality control experts: something tells me we will need to keep an eye on you.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:14 AM | Comments (9)

June 23, 2003

Do We Really Need Another 'Other'?

Not since Joan Wallach Scott heralded a new age with her 'Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis' have historians faced such an exciting time to rethink what we do. Over the past two decades, our cousins in anthropology and literature have produced essays and monographs dealing with disability as a historical subject. The fields that blazed the trail for studying race, gender, and sexuality while introducing postmodernism and the linguistic turn have provided valuable analytic and theoretical tools for exploring this new Other. Now the work of more and more historians -- some who have been studying disability for decades, others who have been doing it without consciously describing it this way, still others recently inspired by different disciplines -- is beginning to bear fruit in the form of a fresh area of inquiry that could well reshape our scholarly landscape. One need not identify oneself as disabled in order to reap the benefits of this up-and-coming field.

-- Catherine J. Kudlick, "Disability History: Why We Need Another 'Other,'" The American Historical Review vol. 108 no. 3 (June 2003): 763-793

The life of an academic high-flier such as myself is a relentless round of conferences, symposia, and (well-paid and well-attended) speaking engagements, and an endless series of dissipations. Catch me if you can, and I'll bring you up to speed. But you'd better act quickly: I'm a whirlwind of energy and a blur of motion, and I'm sure I spend more time in the airport lounge than I do in my own living room. Ocassionally, however, I do condescend to take valuable time out of my gruelling schedule in order to ensure that the readers of this blog can confidently place themselves on the cutting edge of contemporary historical scholarship.

So then:

At the risk of repeating myself (because I know I've said it elsewhere on this blog, though at the moment I can't remember exactly where), this is an age of immodesty.

In this very recently published article, which might be seen as the birth announcement of a new field of historiography, Kudlick asserts that disability "should sit squarely at the center of historical inquiry" (p. 765) and argues that "disability is so vast in its economic, social, political, cultural, religious, legal, philosophical, artistic, moral, and medical import that it can force historians to reconsider virtually every concept, every event, every 'given' we have taken for granted" (p. 767). These are bold claims, and they are uttered in a tone of breathless and unqualified enthusiasm. Indeed, Kudlick can barely conceal her sense of excitement at being the herald of the good news: with the discovery of disability history, Kudlick has apparently identified a new growth industry for historians desperately casting about for a new project, or at least a new angle. When viewed in the "protean terms" that she recommends, Kudlick assures us, "the field offers possibilities for intellectual exploration that will appeal to a variety of scholarly tastes," while "its very ambiguity and changing meanings open up uncharted areas of research and modes of analysis" (766-7). Best of all, "one need not identify oneself as disabled in order to reap the benefits of this up-and-coming field." Though "in light of these sweeping implications," Kudrick writes, and without a trace of irony, "it is curious that disability did not capture historians' attention sooner" (767).

It is curious indeed.

Well. I don't dispute the claim that disability has been overlooked. And I'm open to the idea that its significance is greater than most historians have realized. Moreover, I will readily acknowledge that Kudlick cites a number of works -- on deafness, on disabled veterans, on the medical history of autism -- that do indeed sound valuable and interesting. And then of course, given the whole campus culture wars routine, it is difficult for a liberal feminist type to criticize a new field without fear of aligning myself with the fuddy-duddies.

Nevertheless. I have to say that, as announced by Kudlick in this article, the enterprise smacks of academic opportunism. Now that we've exhausted the possiblities for race, class and gender, runs the subtext, it is time to find or else to create for ourselves a new Other.

Granted, I'm feeling a wee bit cranky these days (yes, thank you for asking, and welcome to my blog). But I read something like this and I think, Good grief, has it really come to this? Can we not encourage the exploration of new topics and themes without requiring grand gestures and hyperbolic claims of world-historical significance? How likely is it, after all, that someone or some group has recently discovered a previously overlooked category of such breadth and scope that it will overturn our basic understanding of all that we had, up until the day before yesterday, taken as given? I'd say it is not at all likely. Indeed, I'd go further and say that the very suggestion strikes me as a-, or perhaps even as anti-historical. But then, I'm not one of your high-fliers, just a humble and invisible adjunct.


Rebecca Goetz agrees that the Kudlick article "was, um, a tad overdone," and finds it "really sad that historians feel like they have to present every idea as the next new thing--the greatest contribution to history since last year's major paradigm shift" (permanlink bloggered; scroll to Tuesday, June 24 2003).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:08 PM | Comments (26)

From CV to Resume?

I'm looking for advice on how to write a resume, and especially on how to do so when you've wasted so many years of your life in the academy that you don't have anything non-academic to put on your resume. Books, websites, hints from Heloise, personal testimonials, twelve-step affirmations...Throw it at me!

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:02 PM | Comments (13)

Supreme Court Rules on AA

The U.S. Supreme Court today upheld the use of affirmative action in college admissions in two cases involving the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, but struck down the mechanics of Michigan's undergraduate admissions policy.

-- Peter Schmidt, Supreme Court Upholds Affirmative Action in College Admissions

As many legal scholars had predicted, the Court upheld Michigan's admissions policy in the case involving the law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). In the case involving undergraduate admissions (Gratz v. Bollinger), the Court struck down the current policy as too broad and formulaic (as was predicted), but "the majority did not reject the use of racial preferences to promote educational diversity."


As he notes in his comment here, Frank Admissions will be posting about the decisions at the Financial Aid Office, where he is now a special guest blogger.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:01 PM | Comments (2)

Generation Gap: Junior versus Senior Faculty on the Current State of the Academy

In the comments to "Do Adjuncts Behave like Scabs?" Chris makes an interesting observation on the difference in perspective between senior tenured faculty and junior tenure-track faculty.

He characterizes the attitude of senior faculty as follows:

Many full time and tenured faculty are aware, however begrudgingly, that they are the last of their breed. In fact, I think many -- certainly not all, but many -- recognize that when they retire their lines will probably be re-classified, or eliminated altogether. And to the question 'why don't they do anything about this', the answer is that they feel powerless to do anything about the process, and in the interim -- that is, in the time between the present and their retirement -- they are more or less secure in their positions.

In marked contrast, he points to

an essential core belief that surrounds most younger tenure-track or tenured faculty: as a result of their success securing a tenure-track position, many younger faculty exhibit a stunning faith in the soundness of the institution.

Of course, he paints with a broad brush, and exceptions could be duly noted. And I'm pretty certain that at least some of my readers will see things very differently. But I have often observed much the same gap in perceptions between junior and senior faculty, and I think Chris's comment is a nice summary of the view from the margins.

For a very telling example of senior faculty pessimism, see James McPhersons's inaugural Perspectives column ("Budget Cuts and History Jobs: Many Problems, No Easy Solutions"), which opens on a decidedly gloomy note:

Inaugural addresses by American presidents typically offer upbeat and expansive sentiments. Franklin D. Roosevelt assured Americans that the only thing they had to fear was fear itself. John F. Kennedy called on us to conquer tyranny, poverty, and disease at home and abroad. Ronald Reagan announced an era of national renewal. As the new president of the American Historical Association, perhaps I should follow their example. But a candid appraisal of the prospects before us inhibits optimism—at least in the near term...

I would argue that senior faculty like McPherson have a real point of comparison against which to assess current trends in the academy:

Many of us have known bright young PhDs who are unable to find anything except a series of dead-end one-year positions until they give up in despair and leave the profession. Over the years I have served on numerous search committees to appoint new assistant professors at Princeton. I have been simultaneously impressed and depressed by the high quality of many applicants who have bounced around in one-year 'visiting' assistant professorships or other such euphemisms unknown in the academic world a decade or two ago. My awareness that some of these applicants are smarter and better qualified than I was when Princeton hired me 40 years ago has caused me to experience a professional version of survivor’s guilt. I had the ironic good fortune to be born during the Depression when the birth rate was low and to come onto the job market during the expansive years when the first wave of baby boomers entered college. Young history PhDs starting out today had the ironic misfortune to be born during the prosperous 1960s and to enter the academic job market at a time of uncertainty and stasis.

I suppose the counterargument would be to claim that someone like McPherson views the past through rose-colored glasses -- ie, there's no decline or crisis or what have you: things are as good and as bad as ever, it's just that McPherson didn't notice or has forgotten the bad and only remembers the good. To which I would reply: the job market statistics support McPherson. See, for example, "History Faculty by Gender and Type of Employment, A Twenty Year Comparison."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:01 AM | Comments (10)

June 22, 2003

Ask Jeeves and the Invisible Adjunct Will Reply

To the person who arrived at my site via the following Ask Jeeves query:


The answer to your question: remuneration ranges from not nearly enough to substantially less than not nearly enough.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:25 PM | Comments (4)

A New Contest (Largely, if not Exclusively, of Interest to Female Readers, for Reasons that Should be Obvious)

Because this blog needs more fluff, I bring you:

The Bridesmaid House of Horrors Contest

All this talk of marriage has got me thinking about weddings. And when I think of weddings, I invariably think of bridesmaids. More specifically, I think (with varying degrees of shame and horror and amusement, depending on the mood I'm in) of bridesmaid dresses I have known and not loved, which is to say, of bridesmaid dresses I have actually (and un-f***ing-believably) worn. Are you with me? Yeah, you know it, baby.

Who among us hasn't had, at one point or another, to don some frightful figure-unflattering concotion of polyester satin with dyed-to-match pumps? From leg-o-mutton sleeves (Why I am Not a Libertarian, Reason #156: I think leg-o-mutton sleeves should be ILLEGAL, with violators prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law) to shiny teal green fabric (Women of the World, Unite! and realize that shiny teal flatters no one, and that matching teal green eyeshadow only turns things from very bad to even worse), the bridesmaid outfit reveals the true meaning of the term "Fashion Victim."

So 'fess up. I'm looking for detailed descriptions, and not only of the dresses, but also of the various and sundry accessories to the crime against fashion that we call "The Bridesmaid" (shoes, bags, hairpieces, floral arrangements, makeup and etc.) The worse, the better, and the ghastliest outfit wins.

The prize: No cash, but in addition to the glory: a wedding-related novelty item of my choosing.

The fine print: No purchase necessary to enter or win. Entries must be received by June 28, 2003. Contest is not open to employees of Invisible Adjunct and each of its respective affiliates, subsidiaries, and advertising or promotional agencies, and the immediate family members of, and any persons domiciled with, such employees. Winning contestant must answer a skill-testing question. Winner will be notified by email and announced on this blog on July 1, 2003. Void where prohibited by law.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:55 PM | Comments (7)

Weekly IA Award

This week's Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) goes to Rana of Frogs and Ravens, who picks up on the Tutor's marriage metaphor to offer a sharp observation on the academic job search and to ask an interesting, if uncomfortable, question (comments to "Deprogramming from the Cult of Academia"):

[The] job search, in particular, is very much like a dating game, in which the 'prize' is an 'engagement' to get 'married' (tenured) at some point in the future. The notion of adjuncting as common law marriage is very apt, I think -- it can have the passion -- and abuse -- of a formal marriage, but with none of the security or benefits.

A question -- which is, no doubt, a variant of a larger one about the nature of academe -- why is this metaphor so apt? What does it say about the relationships between scholar-teachers and the institutions which employ them? I can't think of people in other professions talking about their employment like this, the phrase 'married to your job' not withstanding.

Well done, Rana. For my own part, I guess I can't say that I wasn't warned: after all, my mother did tell me, 'Always a bridesmaid, never a bride'...

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:57 PM | Comments (16)

June 21, 2003

'An Interesting Amount of Money:' Textbook Kickbacks and Payoffs

James Williams received his letter last fall. 'Dear Professor,' it began. The form letter went on to offer him $4,000 for reviewing an introductory history textbook. 'I thought, "That's an interesting amount of money,"' says the associate professor of history at Middle Tennessee State University.

Mr. Williams filled out a form online, as the letter requested. A few days into the application process, however, he began to feel uncomfortable. When it became clear that in order to receive the money, he would have to require his students to buy the book, he backed out. He had 'several ethical issues' with accepting money to adopt a textbook, he told the company.

-- Thomas Bartlett, "Selling Out: A Textbook Example"

Four thousand dollars to review a college history textbook certainly is "an interesting amount of money." While James Williams -- much to his credit -- had "ethical issues" with accepting payment from the publisher in exchange for requiring his student to buy the book, for some of his colleagues this quid pro quo apparently represented an offer they couldn't, or wouldn't, refuse:

His colleague, Amy Staples, received the same letter. The assistant professor of history had similar reservations. But the lure of the $4,000 -- 'twice what I make in a month take-home pay,' she says -- was too strong. 'I bought a house in June, and I needed a washer and dryer. I had decided to use a textbook and -- poof! -- all the stars aligned and I got this letter in the mail.'

When asked whether she understands that she was adopting a textbook for money, Ms. Staples pauses for a moment. 'Yeah,' she says.

Well, major household appliances are expensive, so I suppose there was not enough money left over to hire a media consultant who might have advised Ms. Staples not to make the above admission to a reporter from the Chronicle. Anyway, the Chronicle reports that "most of the professors who accepted money from North West, including Ms. Staples, say they now wish they had not."

Meanwhile, North West Publishing

denies that the payments are tied to textbook adoption. As proof, Jason James, the textbook-review manager, said he could provide the names of professors who were paid for reviews but did not adopt a book. Despite repeated requests, he never did turn over such a list. The company has refused to answer other questions about its business practices.

They make the same denial on their website, where North West Publishing's "US History Reviewer's FAQ" explains why the compensation is so high:

Q: Why is the reviewer's compensation so high?

A: In the past we offered less compensation for our textbook reviewers and found that the reviews did not reflect an in-depth knowledge of the book's actual content. In many cases it was apparent that the reviewer hadn't spent enough time with the book and his/her review was not much help to our editorial team. As a result we've increased the reviewer's compensation which affords us the opportunity to be more selective during the application process and ultimately receive more useful feedback in our steady commitment to create the highest quality course material available.

Indeed. We all know how difficult it is to get an academic to write a decent review for anything less than 4K. But if professors are going to accept bribes generous compensation from publishers in exchange for textbook adoption, shouldn't their students be informed of this practice?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:57 AM | Comments (17)

June 20, 2003

Deprogramming from the Cult of Academia

The Happy Tutor of Wealth Bondage suggests a new line of work (comment to "Holiday"):

Maybe you could start a business, for parents and those who love the Adjuncts, to stage an intervention, to kidnap and deprogram.

As the Tutor recognizes, first I would have to deprogram myself:

Wealth Bondage is bad. But even worse is a truly abusive common law marriage. I came back to reread your prior posts and found myself saying, 'Why does she stay in such an abusive relationship, when she knows it has no future, that she is being used, humiliated and discarded?'

Why indeed? In fact, just such an analogy had occurred to me, too. Like so many adjuncts, I'm behaving like someone in an abusive relationship: It must be my fault, it must be me who is to blame...if only I teach one more course or publish one more article, the academy will finally stop hitting me and will finally start loving me for who I am.

Damn. Well, it's not so easy to deprogram oneself, but I'm working on it...

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:03 PM | Comments (17)

Cabin Fever

We're back home, a day or two earlier than we had planned. Some friends of ours had generously given us the use of their cottage in the Adirondacks. A beautiful summer place on a lake, rustic charm with all mod cons.

Problem was, our son (23 months old) was being eaten alive by bugs. Poor little guy! We had sorely misled him: we had given him books and toys and even a video which told him the bugs were his friends. This week he discovered otherwise. Bugs are not the cute and cuddly creatures he had been led to expect: they swarm, and they bite, and they draw blood.

Then there was the very beautiful wraparound deck: not only not child-friendly, but worse than unchild-friendly: a veritable toddler death trap.

So we're back in the city, where I guess we belong.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:44 PM | Comments (1)

June 16, 2003


Off to a lakeside cottage for the remainder of the week. No blogging until Sunday or Monday.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:03 PM | Comments (7)

Do Adjuncts Behave like Scabs?

In the comments to "The Adjunct Track: A Slow Train to Nowhere," Mr. Thomas H. Benton makes a provocative suggestion:

My thinking in regard to my off-the-cuff comment about the Teamsters is that some adjuncts behave like scabs. Some of them make it impossible to act collectively; they function as a surplus army of the unemployed, they drive down wages, and then they condemn the rest of us who don't adopt their individualist outlook as unjustified complainers (I'm not thinking of KW here--more like Jill Carroll, though some of what she says is sensible under the circumstances). Essentially, the "I-can't-believe-I-get-paid-to-do-this" adjuncts sell out to their exploiters in the hopes of getting crumbs from the table.

Here's where I'm torn. Adjuncts are a downtrodden lot, but I wonder if academic workers who are committed to change and collective action need to draw a line and declare, 'You are with us or against us.' And, if you are an adjunct who undercuts wages, expands the tyranny of flexibility, refuses to help your fellow academic workers, and then proclaims how wonderful the system is . . . well, what would a serious union movement do?

So Mr Benton has visited a blog entitled "Invisible Adjunct" and left a comment suggesting that adjuncts, or at least some adjuncts, behave like scabs. To which I reply, Good for you, Mr. Benton. This is a delicate and thorny issue, and I'm glad you've raised it. One of the problems surrounding discussions of academic work is that we are all too polite, and let's face, all too embarrassed, to confront the issues openly and frankly.

I'm torn too. To work as an adjunct is not only to consent to one's own exploitation but also to participate in the unfolding process of the deprofessionalization of academic teaching more broadly. And this is quite apart from whatever pronouncements one makes on the topic: whether one says, "Adjunct teaching is a bad deal" or "I can't believe they pay me to do this!" it is the teaching at a low wage that contributes to the devaluation of teaching.

There's no question that adjuncts represent a surplus army of cheap labor. And there's little question in my mind that the existence of a surplus reserve of unemployed/underemployed workers drives down the wages/salaries of the fully employed. From one perspective, we can say that every time an adjunct agrees to teach an English literature course for $2,500, that adjunct is contributing to the devaluation/degradation of the profession of teaching English literature.

In common parlance, the term "scab" refers to someone who is doing something in relation to labor union activity. A scab is someone who crosses a picket line, who refuses to join a union, who takes a job as a replacement worker for a worker who is out on strike and so on. I think it's obvious that adjuncts are not scabs in this way. They are not refusing to join a labor union. In fact, it is the full-time faculty labor unions who refuse to admit adjuncts to their membership (as far as I know, the only full-time faculty union that bargains on behalf of adjuncts is the one at CUNY). Nor are adjuncts crossing pickets lines or taking jobs as replacement workers as full-time faculty members go out on strike.

So the term can only make sense in a looser way, as a means of calling attention to the ways in which adjunct labor undercuts the salaries of the fully employed. To call adjuncts scabs even in this looser way, however, would only make sense, I believe, within the context of a movement on the part of full-time faculty to actively resist the adjunctification of their disciplines. Such a movement (not necessarily synonymous with unionization) would have to involve, at the very least, a two-pronged effort to bring the number of PhDs in line with the number of tenure-track positions:

1) a scaling back of graduate students admissions (in some disciplines, a dramatic scaling back); and
2) a campaign to convert part-time into full-time positions

Such a campaign might also require an insistence that the practice of teaching at a fully accredited four-year college or university requires the PhD: though graduate students can still work as teaching assistants, no one can serve as primary instructor for a course without the PhD. Yes, this sounds harsh, but this is what professions do (e.g., doctors, lawyers, chartered accountants) to maintain their labor monopolies: though aspiring entrants can serve in any number of apprenticeship/assistantship capacities, they are simply not permitted to perform certain tasks/services without the full credentials.

The major problem here is that academic professional associations do not license their practitioners. There is obviously no social contract with the state, which is what medical doctors clearly have: the state grants them a legal monopoly over the provision of certain services, they agree to police and enforce credentials and licenses: if you practice surgery without a license, the state can – and I hope will – prosecute you. Leaving aside the question of state interest (and most of us would agree that the state has a compelling interest in preventing an amateur from performing surgery, but does not have a compelling interest in preventing an ABD from teaching an undergraduate survey), there is not even an extra-legal licensing system overseen by the various academic professional associations on behalf of their own members. Nor is there likely to be one, and I would go further and say there probably shouldn't be.

I believe the only real hope here is through something more informal: a campaign to link teaching to rankings and prestige, so that anything above a certain percentage of courses taught by non-PhDs and/or by part-timers, becomes a mark against a university, a sign of its inferiority.

I think it’s important to insist that such a movement would be (I use the conditional tense here because frankly, I don't see any such movement; to the contrary, I see a lot of resistance to the very idea that such a movement might be warranted) different than the attempts to unionize adjunct teachers. The problem with adjunct unionization is that it can only hope to achieve an amelioration of horrible working conditions (low page, lack of benefits) -- from really bad to not quite as bad -- without addressing the broader problem of deprofessionalization. Indeed, I worry that it might even contribute to the further deprofessionalization/proletarianization of academic labor: that is, that it might further institutionalize and confer legitimacy upon the existence of permanent underclass working outside the tenure track in a second tier.

So the problem I have with the way Benton has framed the issue (and admittedly his suggestions are tentative, he acknowledges that he is "torn," and is clearly not issuing absolute pronouncements) is that it seems to begin at the wrong end. The increase in adjunct teaching has undercut wages, yes. But now that these wages have been undercut, and as adjunctification continues, we are approaching a situation (in some cases and in some disciplines) where we might as well say, What an adjunct earns for teaching a course is not so much an undercutting of some other standard or normal wage but is actually the standard, set wage for teaching that course.

There are also a lot of issues here concerning why it is that adjuncts agree to work as adjuncts. I'd like to address this delicate and depressing aspect of the problem, but this will have to wait until I return from vacation (leaving tomorrow, return Sunday).

Let me add that I have singled out Mr. Benton's comment not because I am unsympathetic but rather because I am sympathetic to his perspective. But I want to insist that a movement to resist the two-tier academic labor system would have to be undertaken by full-time faculty. I don't expect to see such a movement any time soon.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:53 PM | Comments (21)

June 15, 2003

Weekly Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory)

This week's Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) goes to Zizka, for his analysis of the humanities as a declining industry (comments to "1 in 5: Thomas H. Benton Explains Why You Shouldn't Go to Graduate School"):

We ought to get an economist on this. What we have is a classic two-tier hiring system in a declining industry (humanities). The industry also is highly dependent on a large pool of workers who rationally should be finding jobs elsewhere. To the extent that scholarship (rather than just teaching) justifies the system, the future looks grim since the scholars of the future are not being fostered. And it looks like an enormous shakedown is ahead.

Well said, Zizka. If this award carried a cash prize, your check would be in the mail. Let me add that we ought to get an economist from outside the academy: someone who neither possesses nor hopes to possess academic tenure.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:15 PM | Comments (23)

Oh, Sh*t: Marc Bousquet's Excremental Theory of Graduate Education (Part I)

'Teaching is a very difficult job and it needs to be a respectable middle class profession,' says Ann Marcus, Dean of the Steinhardt School of Education at New York University.

-- Marylena Mantas, NYU Dean of Education: Ann Marcus

'We need people we can abuse, exploit and then turn loose.'
--Dean Ann Marcus, NYU, on how to hire adjunct professors in the School of Education.
From a caputured e-mail.

-- Benjamin Johnson, Patrick Kavanagh, and Kevin Mattson eds., Steal This University: The Rise of the Corporate University and the Academic Labor Movement (NY: Routledge, 2003).*

If you feel you're being treated like sh*t, Marc Bousquet tells graduate students and adjuncts, it's because you really are the waste product that must be flushed out of the system.

A few months ago, in a post entitled "Adjunct as Activist: A Brief Introduction", I promised to write "two or three postings over the next couple of weeks" on this theme, and declared my intention of beginning with Marc Bousquet's "The Waste Product of Graduate Education: Toward a Dictatorship of the Flexible," Social Text 20.1 (Spring 2002): 81-104 [available online through Project Muse, subscription-only). This I have yet to do. I was, however, in the middle of writing something when my system crashed last Friday (and of course I lost the entry, which I hadn't backed up, so have had to start from scratch).

Unfortunately, the article is available online only through subscription (but for a shorter, more programmatic statement of some of the ideas developed in the "Waste Product" article, see this "Workplace Forward: The Institution as False Horizon"). Since the article is not readily accessible, I want to summarize what I take to be its main points, while adding a few thoughts of my own.

In my reading, the three main arguments are as follows:

1. There is no academic job market.
2. The purpose of PhD production is not to produce degree-holders for tenure-track jobs but to provide cheap non-degreed teaching labor.
3. The problems of the academic labor system can only be solved through collective action.

And since this entry has grown monstrously long and I'm not sure how to use the "extended entry" option (yes, I know, basic stuff, but I'm a bit of a Luddite: if I'm not clear on how it works, I'm afraid of messing it up completely), I'm going to divide my discussion into two entries. This entry deals with point 1 (there is no academic job market), the next post will discuss points 2 and 3. Let me say at the outset that I'm pretty much with Bousquet on point 1; that I both agree and disagree with him on point 2; and that I'm more than a little sceptical of point 3 (hint: this is in part because, as a Canadian, I can't help looking north of the border, where the same employment trends are occurring even though -- yes, Canada is different -- virtually all graduate student TAs and all faculty there are unionized).

1. There is no academic job market.

Bousquet begins by looking at the famous, or infamous, Bowen report of 1989, which projected "'a substantial excess demand for faculty in the arts and sciences' by the mid-1990s, with the consequence that early in the new millennium we could expect 'roughly four candidates for every five positions.'" To quote directly from the brief 1989 President's Report that William G. Bowen prepared as president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, "The results of recent research persuade us that there will be serious staffing problems in essentially all fields within the arts and sciences," with "very substantial shortages" of PhDs predicted across "the humanities and social sciences." So here we are in the early millennium, and as we've known since the mid-1990s, Bowen's estimates turn out to have been shockingly wrong. "What was wrong with Bowen's assumptions," asks Bousquet, "that he strayed so outrageously into fantasy?" In brief, Bousquet argues that

Essentially, Bowen's 'method' was to impose neoliberal market ideology on data that attest, instead to the unfolding process of casualization. Most egregiously, for instance, when confronted with data that increasing numbers of doctoral degree holders had been taking nonacademic work since the 1970s, Bowen ignores the abundant testimony by graduate students that this dislocation from the academy was involuntary and imposes the ideology of 'free choice' on the phenomenon, generating the claim that this ever-upward 'trend' shows that even more people will 'choose' similarly, with the result that he projects a need to increase graduate school admissions (to compensate for the ever-increasing numbers of people who 'choose' nonacademic work (p. 82).

To repeat: Bowen's data indicated that PhDs had been leaving the academy since the 1970s because there weren't enough full-time jobs for PhD-holders. Rather than take this oversupply** into account, he based his projections on the notion that since a certain percentage of PhDs will leave the academy, we must therefore produce even more PhDs to make up for the shortage created by those who leave. This is quite stunningly wrongheaded, and here I am in complete agreement with Bousquet.

Bousquet's analysis of the Bowen report leads him to a broader critique of the "neoliberal ideology" that not only underlies the infamous 1989 report but that also accounts for its "warm and uncritical welcome" within the academy. Characterizing this "vulgar liberalism" as "a kind of accidental neoliberalism produced by wildly inaccurate applications to higher education working conditions of dimly remembered chestnuts from Econ 101," Bousquet argues that the language of the "market" obscures rather than uncovers the reality of casualization in today's academy. While the language of the market "originally served as an analogy," he writes, " the terms hardened under neoliberalism into a positive heuristic," encouraging faculty to think of tenure-track job advertisements as the "demand" and recent degree holders as the "supply" for "an annual job 'market' overseen by professional associations such as the MLA (p. 83)."

For Bousquet, there are three related problems with this market heuristic:

i) It completely ignores the fact that a good deal of teaching is done by those outside the tenure track (graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, PhD-holding adjuncts and the like). Which is to say, it doesn't accurately describe or refer to the actual terms and conditions of employment in the academy, but rather takes one form of employment (tenure-track to tenured) and proceeds as though this were the one and only relevant category, even as this type of full-time employment is being replaced by low-wage, part-time positions.

ii) It therefore encourages the belief that "this 'overproduction' can be controlled 'from the demand side' by encouraging early retirements and 'from the supply side' by shrinking graduate programs," when "in the reality of casualization" the full-time positions of professors who retire are eliminated (or replaced by part-time positions), and when "reducing graduate school admissions does not magically create tenure-track jobs."

I'm with Bousquet on the first point, but not on the second. That is, I completely agree that if you overlook the process of casualization, you will be led to the optimistic conclusion that as full-time professors retire, full-time positions automatically open up for aspiring entrants to the ranks of the tenured. Not necessarily, and in many instances, increasingly, not at all. But while reducing graduate school admissions obviously won't automatically create tenure-track jobs, it will reduce the production of adjuncts. I think such a reduction is vitally important.

iii. It encourages faculty complicity with the two-tier labor system: "The 'job market' fiction has kept most faculty -- even unionized faculty -- as well as many but not all graduate students from a simple yet vital understanding: to address a political, social, and workplace transformation, it is necessary to take political, social, and workplace action (p. 84)."

Though I'm sceptical of the idea that the problems of the labor system really can be solved/resolved through collective action, I certainly agree with Bousquet that faculty have failed to recognize the threat of deprofessionlization:

The idea that the problems of the degree holder are problems of ‘the market’ and not problems for the faculty to address has mystified the degradation, deskilling, and underpricing of faculty work – when it is obvious that of course their working conditions will inevitably converge on the superexploitation of the contingent laborers working in their midst (p. 85).

"When it is obvious of course"? But of course it is not at all obvious, which is precisely the problem -- what is it about Marxism that encourages such locutions? The implied superiority in perspective rather irks me... However, it is not necessary to share Bousquet's neomarxist perspective in order to appreciate his analysis.

I particularly like Bousquet's suggestion that the "'job market' heuristic" might be replaced by "the heuristic of a labor monopoly" -- more specifically, that we should begin to see the academic labor system in terms of "a failed monopoly of professional labor:"

Monopoly control of professional labor generally reflects a social bargain made by professional associations that exchange a service mission with the public for substantial controle over the conditions of their work, generally including deciding who gets to practice...[Postsecondary] educators generally fulfill the service mission that constitutes their half of the bargain, and society in turn continues to grant them monopoly control over degrees, but the labor monopoly fails because degree holding no longer represents control over who may practice.

I believe the idea of a failed, or at least a failing, monopoly helps bridge the gap between guild and market. I don't think the academic employment system has ever been run along lines that might be described as free market. Instead, I see the academic professions as guildlike organizations that have failed to behave like guilds in the face of corporate managerial practices. As I put it in "Reshaping the Job Market" (yes, this blog is all about me: one reason why I have comments enabled is so that I don't inhabit an entirely self-referential universe),

I think the academic history job system now combines the worst of both worlds: it uses the language of the market to describe what is effectively an increasingly ineffective and unsuccessful guild system, and then tells those who are shut out of the guild to compete openly in a non-existent external market.

Indeed, one of the curious things about academia is that many of its members continue to use the language of the guild (graduate school as an apprenticeship, academic work as a sacred vocation) even as they enthusiastically embrace the language of the market (the job market, the notion of the productive scholar). An idea that has come up again and again on this blog is that today's university is neither fish nor fowl -- neither an old-fashioned guild anymore, but not -- or not yet -- a fully corporate animal either (see, for example, "Monastery or Market," based on Timothy Burke's "Monastery or the market?")

What, then, are the purposes of graduate school and PhD production in this strangely hybrid (part guildlike/part corporate-like) space we call the university?...

*Thanks to Thomas Hart Benton for this citation.
**Note: Bousquet would probably not allow the term "oversupply," but I'm sticking to it (more on this in Part II).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:45 PM | Comments (22)

June 14, 2003

Graduate School Culture

And if I waved a magic wand and fixed all those problems, that would leave... oh, most of the people I went to school with. Some of them quit partway through, feeling like failures; some are still at it; some have gotten good academic jobs; some are still looking; some have left the academy. But an awful lot of them -- not necessarily the ones who haven't 'succeeded' in academia, either -- an awful lot of them spent or are spending much of grad school in a state of moderate-to-utter misery, convinced that at any moment the entire ivory tower might give voice: 'You are a dunce and have no business being here!' Actually, some of my cohort were convinced that that had already happened: they read a lack of funding or caring from their institution or their advisor as confirmation of their own fundamental intellectual inadequacy (rather than, oh, confirmation of the practical inadequacy of the institution or the advisor). And I don't believe that most of these smart, capable people with strong undergraduate records came into grad school with profound psychological problems. Something in the grad-school experience broke them, something I was just arrogant and just lucky enough to avoid.

-- Naomi Chana, Graduate School, by Victor Hugo

"If I could have one wish from the Academic-Reform Genie," writes Naomi Chana, "I'd ask that doctoral programs (especially, but not exclusively, in the humanities) impart a deep-rooted sense of intellectual self-confidence to all their students." As just about anyone who has gone through it can attest, graduate school is not good for one's self-esteem. This is a really thoughtful post, and the comments are also well worth reading (also see Chana's earlier Reformatio Universitatis).

Erin O'Connor has an interesting reply to Chana, in which she argues that "the feelings of insecurity, and the suspicion/creeping conviction that one is a fraud, are on some level very reasonable and accurate reactions to have to the academic humanities." I don't know that I agree with O'Connor's contention that the problem stems ultimately from "the corrosive relativism of the humanities" (though I'll admit that at the moment I can't come up with a better explanation; I suppose I would argue that there is a lack of a common framework that gives meaning or relevance to what we do or are supposed to do in the humanities). In any case, I do agree with her characterization of what's wrong with graduate school in the humanities: instead of "starting slowly" and acquiring "a deep knowledge" before beginning to make "one's own informed contributions to the field," in graduate school "one begins by learning grandiose maneuvers." This sounds like too many graduate seminars I attended, and I think it does encourage a good deal of posturing and fakery.

I have to say, outside of my own narrow specialization, much of the historical knowledge I possess I did not acquire in graduate school but rather through teaching: there's nothing like having to develop and then teach a course to force you to learn some of the basics, the mastery of which arguably should have been part of one's graduate studies.


Erin O'Connor posts excerpts from some of the email she received in response to her entry on academic fakery. She characterizes the response as "about evenly divided between anguished acknowledgement of the degradation of the humanities and cynical acceptance of that degradation as an inevitable and manipulable situation." Her readers' accounts of graduate school life are brutally frank and very revealing.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:53 PM | Comments (39)

The Adjunct Track: A Slow Train to Nowhere

When the train, it left the station
with two lights on behind,
When the train, it left the station
with two lights on behind,
Well, the blue light was my blues
and the red light was my mind.
All my love's in vain.

-- Robert Johnson, "Love in Vain"

The bitterest people I have ever met are career adjuncts. They work hard and capably, but they have no health benefits, abysmal pay, no security beyond the end of the term, and worst of all, no sense that they can do anything else with their lives.

-- Kevin Walzer, "On adjunct teaching"

Clio have I loved, but Clio does not care. She is no dewey-eyed maiden, is Clio, but a cold and demanding mistress: imperious and capricious and utterly indifferent to my fate. Of course I would not have it any other way: is it a Muse I am after, or would I rather watch Oprah?

But have I loved in vain?

Kevin Walzer has a great post in which he argues against adjunct teaching as a career option. Though he supports better pay and working conditions for contingent faculty, he worries that unionization might only serve to "make horrifying employment conditions less intolerable." Good point. One of the risks of unionizing adjunct faculty is that it institutionalizes and confers legitimacy upon the idea of a permanent second tier (to which the pro-union advocate might respond, 'But that tier is already actually there, an open secret that remains hidden in plain view, and after all, people do need health insurance'). Walzer's "dream scenario:" "instead of unionizing to barter for a few more crumbs, adjuncts simply resign en masse." More pragmatically, he urges individual adjuncts take a good look at how much they lose by remaining in the academy.

He's right, of course. And I am truly horrified by the thought of becoming a lifer.

Stay tuned as my identity crisis intensifies...

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:38 PM | Comments (32)

June 13, 2003

Freshman Comp Assignment?: Create a Fake Airline

A college freshman created a fake airline that offered bargain-priced tickets on flights between Honolulu and Los Angeles, authorities said Thursday.

Luke Thompson, of Yardley, Pa., incorporated Mainline Airways in Pennsylvania, established a business address in the Boston suburb of Wellesley and set up an elaborate Web site, according to Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly...

-- Martin Finucane, "Student Accused of Creating Fake Airline"

I'd say this student deserves an "A" for creativity, and an "F" for ethics.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:23 AM | Comments (2)

'A Paranoid Genre:' A Publisher on the Doctoral Dissertation

A professor I spoke to recently called the dissertation 'a paranoid genre,' and rightly so. The manuscript you produce as a degree requirement needs to demonstrate that you know the history of your field, that you have propitiated various deities, that you've found the right giant on whose shoulders you can climb and wave your tiny hat. Maybe that isn't paranoia quite, but it's at least a conservatism born of fear...

...A real book manuscript doesn't look over its shoulder, worrying that Foucault is running after it in a hockey mask. It has the confidence not to tell everything, like a tedious old uncle at a family reunion, but instead chooses which part of the story to tell even while knowing much, much more. Most important, a book manuscript doesn't suppress the author's commitment to the subject. That commitment might even be love.

-- William Germano, [currently sub-only; will edit to free URL as soon as it's available]"If Dissertations Could Talk, What Would They Say?"

Here's an interesting read for anyone trying to turn a dissertation into a book manuscript. Most dissertations, Germano claims, are "dry as toast and not as tasty:" dull, overlengthy, and written to fufill an academic requirement rather than to speak to a broader audience. Germano recommends the following:

Every graduate student needs and deserves instruction in writing an article for publication, instruction in planning a thesis that someone other than a committee might care about, instruction in how to maneuver quickly and safely through book publishing's hoops, instruction in how to revise one's work five times, not get sick of it, and understand that the result is worth every grindingly tedious moment spent. There are more attempts to provide those tools than there were 20 years ago, but the university has a long way to go and not much time to get there. Every graduate department or program, as well as every graduate-school administration, should be taking those fundamental tasks and building them into their core programs.

No doubt he is right about this, but don't look for these reforms any time soon.

This opens up another dimension to the "publish or perish" issue, which is briefly discussed in the Rachel Johnson article that I blogged about below. Johnson cites someone at Routledge:

‘We’re inundated with manuscripts and proposals every day,’ says Siobhan Pattinson at Routledge. ‘And what academics want is to publish something not that will sell but that will improve their position in the department. It’s a completely saturated market, so we are now focusing on textbooks’ — which cannot be submitted as research in the RAE process, I should note — ‘and less on the monograph for which we don’t pay the author an advance, which has a print run of 200, and sells for 65 a copy.’

As the academy demands more and more by way of publication, academic publishers increasingly call on academics to cease and desist from the overproduction of unprofitable monographs. As John Sutherland explains in "Publish or Perish,"

Academic presses are no longer prestige operations into which (like their football or basketball teams) college authorities are prepared to pour large sums of money. Even academic presses are nowadays expected to break even. Make profits, even.

The problem, as Sutherland describes it, is that there is simply "no market demand" for what is currently being produced: not only does the public not "want to read the thousands of academic monographs currently being produced by the tenure-needy literary critics of America," but "not even academics buy academic books."

Okay, off to finish revisions to a chapter for a monograph that no more than a handful of people will ever read...

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:14 AM | Comments (31)

Publish or Perish: the UK's RAE

So, in order to get the money necessary to teach undergraduates, academics are being forced to produce a fixed quota of books they have neither the time nor the inclination to write, which nobody particularly wants to read; an exercise that deprives their students of the only benefit they can give them, which is teaching time and expertise (even if this is only snoozing pleasurably as a student reads out his first-year essay on the origins of the Peloponnesian war).

-- Rachel Johnson, "Publish or be damned"

Via Chris Bertram of Junius, Rachel Johnson takes issue with the UK's Research Assessment Exercise, which subjects university teachers "to a production quota for published work that makes Stalin’s five-year plans look positively market-driven."

When the department of Modern History at Oxford dropped from a 5* to a 5 rating (there are seven possible grades, from 0 to 5*), "the loss of the star resulted in the deduction of a full 1 million from the faculty’s government grant." In addition to the loss of cash, writes Johnson,

donnish pride took a further kicking when the history department at Oxford Brookes University (aka the poly) was given a higher rating than the one at the university, where titans have numbered Richard Cobb, Richard Southern and Eric Hobsbawm among them. The former poly’s history department was graded 5* to the university’s 5.

Well, not that we didn't already know it, but I think we can now officially declare that the days of the gentleman-scholar are over. In Johnson's characterization, the RAE is based on the premise that "those in receipt of public money must be quality-controlled, audited and assessed on a continuous basis." I suppose one could argue (and no doubt its defenders do argue) that this quality control process (though perhaps it should be termed a quantity control process?) represents a democratization of the bestowing of prestige (not to mention money). Here is a process, after all, through which the department at Oxford Brookes earns a higher rating than the department at Oxford.

But I think Johnson is right to point out that all of this comes at the expense of teaching:

To recap: at a time when the government is increasing hugely the numbers of students entering higher education (OK, partly now by allowing catering colleges to call themselves universities, but still) and asking parents to pay for their tuition, those responsible for teaching them are being judged not by their teaching skills but by what they have managed to get between hard covers or into learned journals.
Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:18 AM | Comments (1)

June 12, 2003

Stylesheet Help Needed

There's too much space between my blogbody (i.e., the date above the most recent entry) and the banner (i.e., the bottom of the banner) at the top of this page. I'm assuming this is a question of adjusting margins or padding? But I don't know which element to adjust. Can anyone help?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:33 PM | Comments (7)

The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated

Or have they? Let's try posting this.

And it works! I'm back online.

The bad news: I lost a few days' worth of entries and comments, including, unfortunately, the entry "Is Tenure a Cartel?" (it's not the post I regret but the comments, and especially those by John Bruce and Zizka). I also lost my blog templates: the main template (links to other blogs and other sites, recommended readings on the academic job market, and so on), and the stylesheet (I had started out with one of the MT default templates, then gradually made changes -- I will do so again, but it won't be the same as the original because I stupidly did not back up the style template, and can't remember what changes I had made).

The good news: I had backed up my entries up to the afternoon of June 4, which I've now imported.

Many thanks to all those who sent queries, recommendations, and offers of help, and especially to Erin O'Connor of Critical Mass, Ogged of Unfogged, and Alex Soojung-Kim Pang of Relevant History.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:51 PM | Comments (16)


This is a new entry to test your Movable Type installation.

We have installed Movable Type on your server and configured the paths for the initial weblog in the system per your request. Do not delete this weblog ("First Weblog") unless you know what you are doing, because it is already configured for your server.

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This weblog is using the default Movable Type templates; if you wish to edit the style of this weblog yourself, you may find the Default Styles to be useful. You can also edit the templates themselves; more information on template tags and customization is in the manual.

This entry is just for testing purposes, and can be deleted or edited whenever you wish. Thank you for choosing Movable Type!

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 06:12 AM | Comments (7)

June 04, 2003

Quote of the Day (4 June)

The Happy Tutor of the famous (or is that infamous?) Wealth Bondage, on the Happy Global Family motif:

Foundations realize that the world will be responsive primarily to global corporations, that the US government, and all other nation states, will bow to corporate power. And, 'It's a good thing,' as Martha Stewart said in 2003 emerging from her arraignment.

Say what you will about Martha Stewart. Her Kmart housewares collection kicks a**, and you know it.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:00 AM | Comments (2)

June 03, 2003

A Recovering Academic Enters the Blogosphere

But when I see so many gifted people still in academe, scraping by on adjunct income with no real prospects for earning a decent living, my heart goes out to them and I want to say: You are too gifted and intelligent to be wasting your time in a profession that does not want you. Just as importantly, the world is not benefitting from your talents. Look elsewhere!

The above quote comes from Kevin Walzer, who has written about the academic job crisis "in the Chronicle and elsewhere" and who has a new blog called (appropriately enough) Kevin Walzer's Blog. Among the topics he plans to address are "writing and publishing poetry, earning a living in the business world, fooling around with computer technology (and occasionally harnessing it for useful purposes), and being a former/recovering academic." I look forward to reading more.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:18 PM | Comments (3)

1 in 5: Thomas H. Benton Explains Why You Shouldn't Go to Graduate School

'Remember,' I advise, 'that if you go to graduate school, you are contributing to the problem by making it less necessary for universities to hire full-time faculty members at decent wages. If you have a burning passion for Victorian poetry, you can probably satisfy this passion by yourself. Force yourself to read a few dozen academic books before deciding to dedicate your life to a subject. That is what one does in graduate school anyway. Most learning is unsupervised, independent, and onerous. Why pay or work according to an institutional timetable unless one needs an academic credential?'

-- Thomas H. Benton, "So You Want to Go to Grad School?"

Thomas H. Benton, assistant professor of English at a midwestern liberal arts college and recent recipient of the Weekly Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory), has an excellent column on how to advise undergraduates who want to go to graduate school. His recommended advice can be summed up quite simply: "Don't go."

He notes that

the Modern Language Association's own data -- very conservative and upbeat in my opinion -- indicate that only about one in five newly-admitted graduate students in English will eventually become tenure-track professors.

1 in 5. It is very important that aspiring graduate students know these numbers.

But as Benton knows, it's not enough to publicize and emphasize the bleak statistics. It is also necessary to expose the inaccuracies and half-truths -- the mythology, if you will -- that mislead young people into taking this destructive, and often self-destructive, path.

The problem is not only that every bright and overachieving undergraduate tends to think, "I'll be one of the 1s, and not one of the other 4s" (which line of magical thinking is all too often actively encouraged and fostered by undergraduate advisors). There is also a more complex issue: namely, the fact that many people enter with the mistaken belief that they are signing on for another, more extended version of undergraduate education, a sort of "Grand Tour," as Benton puts it, that will give them the chance to explore new areas of inquiry and acquire a "cultural polish" without becoming personally invested in the profession:

'Also, remember that most grad students start out as dilettantes, thinking they'll just hang out for a few years on a stipend. But eventually they become completely invested in the profession, unable to envision themselves doing anything else. A few years can become a decade or more. Meanwhile, everyone else is beginning their adult lives while you remain trapped in permanent adolescence.'

I could, and probably will, say more about this in a later entry.

One topic that I have yet to address on this blog -- related to what Benton calls the "permanent adolescence" and to what I tend to think of as "graduate school as infantilization" -- is that of children: i.e., what happens to too many graduate students/adjuncts/unemployed and underemployed PhDs who want a family but who put it off for all kinds of complex reasons (the most basic of which is simply lack of financial resources). It's a grim tale, and another of those issues that nobody really talks about, at least not publicly, though privately I've often found that even the casual mention of certain keywords is enough to elicit some very sad stories from both men and women. In this area, I am one of the lucky ones, I breathe a sigh of relief when I realize how very fortunate. I know too many people who are not so lucky.

But more on this later. For now, I highly recommend Benton's essay, a must-read not only for would-be graduate students but also, and just as importantly, for the faculty who would encourage them.

UPDATE, 25 June:

I lost the last third of the comments to this post during a server crash a few weeks ago. Here is a google cached version of the comments, which I've just discovered. I'm particularly pleased to find the last comment, by Kelli, whose "Me, I'm writing a screenplay for Hollywood. Onward and upward, baby" has stuck in my mind ever since I first read it. Her comment in its entirety is worth reprinting here:

Wow! Is it too late to enter the fray? If not here are the thoughts of a recent Ph.D. from a top-ten humanities school, now at home raising the kids and paying hundreds/month in student loans.

1. Yes, I am quite sure I could have landed SOMETHING had I stuck it out.

2. However, how many sacrifices should otherwise intelligent people make for a career whose reward structure has been decaying rapidly over the past decade?

3. That's the question at its most basic, isn't it? What is this career worth? I have friends who quit because they could not live within 500 miles of their spouse, and others who have been married for years without ever living more than a summer together. I have friends who teach a couple of courses a year while managing the household, as their spouse comes ever closer to achieving tenure. Let's see how those marriages fare over time, shall we.

4. The numerous calls on this thread for "real-world experience" are absolutely on the mark. By the time you have Ph.D. in hand it is most likely TOO LATE. An exception is my husband, with a Ph.D. in ancient Near Eastern languages and religion (a top seller, that) who is now ensconsed in finance and makes excellent money. How did this happen? A window opened just enough in the gogo 90s to let him crawl in on the slimmest of qualifications and now, no one even notices the Ph.D. thing. This will probably never happen again, at least not in our lifetimes. This needs to be tattooed on the forearm of all those who insist on going straight to grad school.

Finally, there is a lot of pain in this thread, masked with good humor and fortitude. I wish you all well in whatever career you select or are cast into. Me, I'm writing a screenplay for Hollywood. Onward and upward, baby.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:31 PM | Comments (93)

Live Colloquy on Academic Blogging

Do Web logs, or 'blogs,' contribute to academic discourse? What should academics who want to blog know about the medium?

-- Colloquy Live, Chronicle of Higher Education

Tomorrow, Wednesday 4 June, at 1 pm (Eastern US time), the Chronicle will host a live colloquy on academic blogging, starring law professor Eugene Volokh as Eugene Volokh the blogger.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:00 PM | Comments (0)

History PhDs, Ten Years Later

Fresh-faced graduate students begin their quest for a Ph.D. certain that they are on a path to academic glory. Along the way, reality sets in. Friends and neighbors warn them that no one ever gets a job. Mothers worry that offspring will be teaching as part-timers for years.

... At the University of Washington at Seattle, the graduate school has created a survey that tries to track the career paths of the more than 3,000 students who have received its Ph.D.'s in the past decade. The survey, done mostly recently in 2001, provides a glimpse of where those doctorates have gone. About a third are tenure-track faculty members, 10 percent have non-tenure-track jobs, and about 20 percent have jobs in industry. The survey also drills down to the departmental level -- showing, for instance, that 55 percent of the 77 history Ph.D.'s covered by the survey have tenure-track jobs. Just 3 of those 77 hold jobs entirely unrelated to their doctoral degrees.

-- Scott Smallwood, "The Path to a Ph.D. -- and Beyond"

Here's an interesting report on "how a group of historians has fared, 10 years after graduation." Presumably these people received their PhDs in 1991. The academic job market in history has considerably worsened since then (e.g., 1999 saw a record number of history PhDs produced, without anything near a corresponding increase in tenure-track jobs).

Yes, this blog is gloomy. I need to lighten up with some fluffier topics. How about, "How not to be victimized at the cosmetics counters at Bloomingdale's" (hint: bring your toddler, that's as good as shouting "Back off, Makeup Lady!")

In the meantime, what I want to know is: Has Scott Smallwood been talking to my mother?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:22 AM | Comments (20)

June 02, 2003

"Adjunct Survivor: Big City" (Contingent Faculty and Academic Freedom)

Casting Call: Producers of new reality television show, Adjunct Survivor: Big City, seek highly educated (Ph.D. preferred), highly skilled men and women willing to teach four courses per semester (or more)—any subject—for below living wage. Excellent benefits not included. Must have own car or transit pass. Internal Revenue Service mileage rate not provided. Equal opportunity exploiter: those seeking academic freedom need not apply.

-- Eric Marshall, "Victims of Circumstance: Academic Freedom in a Contingent Academy"

Something tells me Fox TV would pass on the concept of a reality TV show based on the trials and tribulations of adjunct faculty. I just don't think academics have the right kind of sex appeal. But maybe I'm wrong: perhaps viewers would be wowed by the use of political philosophy/political theory pickup lines (Kieran Healy explains how to be a Burkean-style babe magnet here; while Kevin Drum resolves the question of why Hobbes never married here).

Anyway, the above-linked essay is about academic freedom and whether or not it applies to adjunct faculty. The problem, of course, is that, as Marshall puts it,

the usual and customary understanding of academic freedom has also long wedded it inseparably to tenure, thereby greatly diminishing its relevance for adjuncts and largely excluding them from the conversation.

Is tenure the only way to secure academic freedom? And if so, what is the significance of the fact that increasing numbers of university teachers do not and never will enjoy academic freedom? And if not, what does this do to the standard argument that the protection of academic freedom requires the continued maintenance of the tenure system?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:45 PM | Comments (6)

Policies on Posting Comments

Comments are an important part of this weblog. I encourage people to post responses both to my entries and to the replies of other readers, and I greatly appreciate the contributions of readers who engage in discussion and debate, offering their own ideas and opinions and expressing both agreement and disagreement with me and others who post here.

While the vast majority of people who post comments here already tacitly agree to follow basic rules of civility, the time has come to define these rules explicitly. The basic rules of civility are best specified, I believe, in terms of the following prohibitions against incivility:

* No flaming
* No ad hominem attack
* No "shouting" at me or other readers through the use of ALL CAPS (the use of ALL CAPS to emphasize the odd word or phrase is fine, but the excessive use of ALL CAPS as an inflammatory device is unacceptable)

In other words, if you don't like what someone has said, attack the argument, not the person making the argument.

These rules are intended not to stifle debate (if we all agreed with one another, we wouldn't have much to say to one another) but rather to allow for debate: I want this weblog to be a space where people can express dissent and disagreement without turning ugly and nasty.

I reserve the right to edit or delete any post that violates the basic rules of civility. Repeat offenders will be banned from posting here.

Edited for clarity 13 June.

UPDATE (22 February 2004):

In an attempt to protect the blog against auto-generated comment spam, I've decided to close the comments for entries older than 30 days. If you'd like to post a comment to an older (and now comments-disabled) entry, please email me at ia at invisibleadjunct dot com.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:56 PM | Comments (5)

Weekly Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory)

This week's Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) goes to John Bruce for his truly inspired description of graduate TAs as "blood corpuscles" (comment to "Doctor Temp"):

The TAs, who are grad students, attend the money-losing graduate seminars, paid for by the tuition credit they generate in addition to their subsistence cash income. In this way they serve to transfer the funds from the high-volume, high margin intro courses to the low-volume, money losing graduate seminars. Blood corpuscles.

Nicely done, Mr. Bruce. Your account of the role and function of the TA in the university's circulatory system deserves to circulate freely.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 06:08 AM | Comments (1)

Pursue a Liberal Arts Degree and Join the Ranks of the Non-Industrial Proletariat?

OK, fine, you got your liberal arts B.A. sometime in the last five years. What does that mean?

It means that you've succeeded in joining the non-industrial proletariat. You're $5,000--$20,000 in debt. Your parents are worried about you. You're making just enough to get by. Statistically speaking, you're working in one of the following five job categories:

* Waitperson/ barista, etc.
* Copy center
* Care center
* Convenience store
* Telephone solicitation.

-- Zizka, "Forget the B.A."

Zizka offered an interesting response in the comments to my earlier post, "A Question for Anyone Who Cares to Respond." I now discover this equally provocative piece at his website. He paints a grim picture of employment prospects for liberal arts majors. Is it an accurate one?

The Accidental Admin at the Financial Aid Office might be inclined to answer "No." In this post on "The Public and Private Benefits of Higher Education," the Accidental Admin suggests that higher education leads to, among other things, "personal economic benefits" in the form of higher salaries, higher savings, better working conditions and the like (without, however, specifying which type of higher education). On the other hand, here is an article (admittedly dealing with the situation in the UK) which suggests that "Arts degrees 'reduce earnings:'"

A degree in an arts subject reduces average earnings to below those of someone who leaves school with just A-levels, a study shows.

Graduates in these subjects - including history and English - could expect to make between 2% and 10% less than those who quit education at 18, researchers at Warwick University found...

Professor Ian Walker, leading the study, said: 'Feeling warm about literature doesn't pay the rent.'

I hope Zizka is wrong, but I certainly wouldn't dismiss his argument out of hand. And I guess it's hard to argue with this:

The people who are giving you this cultural enrichment stuff are people who need you to study with them, because if you don't, they won't have jobs. If you and your parents have to make a lot of sacrifices in order for you to study with these guys, that's perfectly OK as far as they're concerned.

Whether or not Zizka is right, I think it's important to note an important distinction here. American higher education is of course highly stratified into different tiers. If you received a liberal arts degree from, for example, Harvard Univesity or Amherst College, chances are you're not working as a clerk at a convenience store. However, the real growth in liberal arts education that occurred with the expansion of higher ed. during the 1960s took place not at the top tier (many of those schools having been doing liberal arts for a couple of centuries) but at the second and third tiers. Statistically speaking, the real question is, What are the employment/earning prospects of someone who earns a liberal arts degree at a school that is not in top tier?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:34 AM | Comments (20)

June 01, 2003

A Question for Anyone Who Cares to Respond

Marcus, my son, you have been a pupil of Cratippus' for a year already, and that in Athens. Consquently, you ought to be filled to overflowing with philosophical advice and instruction, through the great authority of both teacher and city: the former can improve you with his knowledge, the latter by her examples...

...Many weighty and beneficial matters in philosophy have been discussed accurately and expansively by philosophers. However, it is their teachings and their advice on questions of duties that seem to have the widest application. For no part of life, neither public affairs nor private, neither in the forum nor at home, neither when acting on your own nor in dealings with another, can be free from duty. Everything that is honourable in a life depends upon its cultivation, and everything dishonourable upon its neglect.

-- Cicero, On Duties, Book I

The question is:

What is the purpose of a liberal arts undergraduate education?

Imagine that you have been asked to address a group of college-bound high school seniors, many of whom are undecided as to whether or not to pursue the liberal arts path. Or perhaps you are speaking to the parents of these students, some of whom are sceptical of the value of a liberal arts degree, which they worry might prove "useless." Would you recommend that students pursue a liberal arts degree, and if so, on what grounds?

I have been thinking and wondering about this question quite a bit lately, the more so after having read Stanley Fish's "Aim Low," in which he asserts that university teachers are responsible not for "the effects of our teaching" but only for "its appropriate performance" and, more broadly, objects "to moral and civic education in our colleges and universities" on the grounds "not that it is a bad idea (which it surely is), but that it's an unworkable idea." At least a few bloggers have responded to Fish's article: Jason at No Symbols Where None Intended, for example, calls the essay "especially intelligent;" Gary Sauer-Thompson thinks the essay raises "an important issue" but suggests that Fish has "a very narrow conception of the university;" while Jack at SCSUScholars approves of Fish's message that faculty "become professionals again," and believes the views of Fish represent those of "the bulk of the sensible faculty who have been depressingly silent, and in their fears have abdicated their responsibility to actually educate their students."

I've been meaning to blog about this essay too, but have been too lazy/busy/distracted to do so. So in the spirit of "interactivity," I thought I'd throw open the question to anyone who has an interest in the current and future state of the liberal arts in higher education. What, if anything, is the value of such an education, and wherein lie its merits -- or, given recent attacks on the liberal arts, perhaps I should say, wherein lies its justification?

I suppose I should just leave it at that and see if anyone cares to respond, and along what lines. But I can't resist making a point which I think an important one. In his "Aim Low," Fish takes aim at the recently published Educating Citizens: Preparing America's Undergraduates For Lives Of Moral And Civic Responsibility (Jossey-Bass, 2003), "a product of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching" which "reports on a failure" that Fish finds "heartening." Fish characterizes the "grand and ambitious agenda" of this book as "at once too vague and too left-by-the-numbers and too ambitious," and pretty much implies that the concern with moral and civic education represents a left-liberal position: "while academics are always happy to be warned against the incursions of capitalism, they are unlikely either to welcome or heed a warning against the incursions of virtue."

What Fish doesn't acknowledge here, however, is something of which he must surely be aware, namely, that the concern with moral and civic education also animates the grand and ambitious agenda of those who call for a return to traditional standards and traditional curricula from a more conservative position. Thus, Lynne Cheney, for instance, delivers addresses on "the role of civic education in sustaining political freedom." And colleges and universities which offer "great books" programs (a useful list of such programs can be found here) typically define the mission of such an education in civic and moral terms. To quote just one example, St. John's College explains the value of a great books education as follows:

The books that are at the heart of learning at St. John's stand among the original sources of our intellectual tradition. They are timeless and timely; they not only illuminate the persisting questions of human existence, but also have great relevance to the contemporary problems with which we have to deal. They therefore enter directly into our everyday lives. Their authors speak to us as freshly as when they first spoke. They change our minds, move our hearts, and touch our spirits. What they have to tell us is not something of merely academic concern, or remote from our real interests. At St. John's books are not treated reverently or digested whole; they are dissected, mulled over, interpreted, doubted, often rejected, often accepted. They serve to foster thinking, not to dominate it.

The problem, of course, is that while many liberals and conservatives are in broad agreement that a liberal arts education should be in part an education in moral and civic virtues and duties, they don't agree at all on the specific content and direction of such an education. So perhaps Fish's proposal to abandon the moral and civic component does represent the only viable solution, and the only way to finally cease and desist from the endless and endlessly tedious campus culture wars. But I'd like to emphasize the point that an appeal to professionalism as a replacement for civics and morality does represent something fairly novel in the history of liberal arts education. And I would have to add that I am not persuaded that such a proposal should be seen as a "new and improved" one.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:36 PM | Comments (19)